Best of the Russian Leica copies

Discussion in 'Rangefinder Forum' started by JRieke, May 5, 2009.

  1. JRieke

    JRieke Member

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    I've decided that I'd like to have a Leica II (my mother gave away my grandfathers when told it was just an old camera and wasn't worth fixing) I've been looking at Russian copies since I'm currently an engineering student, translation: no money. There are tons of them on Ebay and some of them are pretty cheap. Since they seem to be simple cameras I could probably fix most small problems if any.

    So which ones are best? I'd like to hear from people who have used/worked on/know someone who has either.

    Thanks

    Jeremiah

    (Please note, saying "there have been threads on this in the past" is not helpful at all! The search engine sucks on this forum and you wind up wading through more garbage than you do finding answers. If you are irritated by my post, don't read/respond/rant! Move on! However, if you have interesting/useful/intelligent information to share please do so. Thanks)
     
  2. Anscojohn

    Anscojohn Subscriber

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    I have a Fed 3 with a Tessar-Formula Industar 61 (the "radioactive") lens. the lens is excellent and the camera is capable enough. It does not look exactly like a Leica--some of the other earlier Feds and Zorkis look the part, but I do not know how good (or unbad) they are. My Fed 3, with red leatherette covering, cost me about thirty bucks with shipping.
     
  3. Erik Petersson

    Erik Petersson Subscriber

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    These cameras tend to be a little inconsistent, among other things because they are old. I bought one that was cosmetically perfect, but the shutter is somehow stuck. Maybe you feel that you can fix such problems on your own. Or you could buy one from a dealer that cleans and tests the cameras before sale, then again that is not as cheap. Or get a guarantee from the seller.
     
  4. denmark.yuzon

    denmark.yuzon Member

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    i kinda like the FED2.. fixing them needs some skill and know how with old cameras though.. there are tons of sellers in ebay that cleans, fixes these cameras before selling..
     
  5. Mark Fisher

    Mark Fisher Subscriber

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    I have tried 3 different ones and only one works properly. It is an obviously very used Fed2 with the Industar 61. Great lens and great (if a little crude) camera. My theory on Russian cameras is that the one that looks the most obviously used is probably the one that actually works. The ones that didn't work looked nearly new (and probably weren't used for good reason!) .
     
  6. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    Leica IIs, and even IIIs are not really very expensive, even through KEH, which asks higher-than-normal prices for their stuff. I would save up and get a $200 Leica (or Canon) rather than taking a chance on a $50 camera that could be good or bad, and which would have to be shipped back to Ukraine, Russia, etc. if there is a problem...and that is assuming they will even take it back. With KEH, you have 30 days, and no hassles or high costs if you need to return something.

    I got both my Leicas on E-Bay. Each was about $225. One had a Summar (IIIa) and the other had a Summitar (IIIc).

    You can hold yourself over with something like a Yashica Electro 35, if you must have something now.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2009
  7. Ulrich Drolshagen

    Ulrich Drolshagen Subscriber

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  8. Fotoguy20d

    Fotoguy20d Subscriber

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    I have a IIIC with Elmar 50mm (around $250 on ebay). I also have a Zorki I with Industar-22 (around $65 on ebay from this seller - http://myworld.ebay.com/leon1965jazz/ - YMMV, and his prices seem to have gone up). Both cameras work well but I will say that the Zorki lacks the smoothness and refinement of the Leica (everything on the Zorki that moves feels stiff or gritty - advancing the shutter, you can feel the poor quality of the gear teeth, the shutter button doesn't release as nicely, etc).

    Dan
     
  9. martyryan

    martyryan Member

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    I bought 4 different Russian cameras looking for a good one, all had some problem that made them unusable, I finally gave up on the enterprise.

    Marty
     
  10. guissimo

    guissimo Member

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    I have a Fed 2 that I bought for $25. According to the seller, the camera had been CLA'd. Well, it works fine except the viewfinder is tiny and very dim. So, I rarely use it because it takes me forever to get things in focus.
     
  11. srs5694

    srs5694 Member

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    Some basic background on these cameras: The Soviets cloned the Leica II several times, but the two lines that "took" are the FED and the Zorki. The first iterations of these are virtually identical, and AFAIK there's not much reason to prefer a 1st-generation FED vs. a 1st-generation Zorki. Each line then evolved more-or-less independently.

    If you want something that's very old-fashioned, then a FED 1, FED 2, Zorki 1, or Zorki 2 will probably fit the bill, and all will be pretty similar, with the big caveat that cameras of this age will all have their quirks (on top of the substantial sample-to-sample variability out of the factory). The Commie Cameras site referenced above will give you some basic information on the model-to-model differences. FWIW, I own a FED 2 with a collapsible lens that I use as a take-anywhere camera, since it can fit in a jacket pocket (but not in jeans pockets). It works reasonably well in this respect, and I've taken a few decent photos with it. Its rangefinder image is displaced vertically, which makes focusing a bit weird, since the images line up correctly horizontally but not vertically, but otherwise it works just fine.

    If you want something more sophisticated (with a built-in meter, for instance), a more recent model may be in order. I've got a FED 5 that's a capable camera, and the Industar 61L/D lens is pretty sharp. (My sample is very stiff, though; it needs a CLA, but I've never gotten around to doing one.) The FED 5 has a built-in selenium light meter, which works like many hand-held selenium meters, but doesn't require an extra pocket to hold it. It's bulkier than my FED 2, so it's not really a pocketable camera like the FED 2.

    Note that some of the older models, particularly in the Zorki line, are bottom-loaders. This design can be a bit awkward, particularly if you want to load film in the field, since it requires extra-long leaders. Cutting a new leader isn't that hard, but you'll either need to do so at home and take pre-cut film with you or take scissors or a knife with you to do it just before loading the camera. Both my FEDs are back-loaders, like most 35mm cameras (although the backs come off entirely). I think the FED 1 was a bottom-loader. I'm not sure when Zorkis changed from bottom- to back-loading.
     
  12. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    It seems like the FED-2 and Zorki-4 are widely liked, but given the uneven quality control and varied histories of these cameras, it's probably generally true that the best Soviet camera is the one that's been recently CLAd by someone competent, rather than any particular model.

    Both have combination view-/rangefinder windows, which IIRC the Leica II didn't, so if you're set on duplicating that aspect of the "real thing" you'll want one of the earlier models. The original FED-1 and Zorki-1 are the closest clones of the Leica II, AFAIK.

    -NT


    -NT
     
  13. nicefor88

    nicefor88 Member

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    I agree with 2F/2F, why not save a bit and get the real deal. Leica are so nice so why bother looking for make-believe from the Cold War and poorly engineered in the counterfeit paradise?
     
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  15. Hamster

    Hamster Member

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    From an Engineer's POV:

    I have owned Zorkii-1, Zorkii-3S, Zorkii-4K, Fed-2 and Fed-3.

    Fed-2 is my favorite, small size, long RF base, simple mechanism (no slow speed beyond 1/30, which is ok). It is easy to fix and can take a far amount of abuse.

    I always think of it as the AK-47 of rangefinder. Get the older ones without timer or "mushroom film advance" and they are almost indestructible if reassembled and lubricated correctly.

    Mine is always good-to-go with some occasional maintenance and adjustment.
     
  16. Erik Petersson

    Erik Petersson Subscriber

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    My favourite among Russian rangefinders is Ukrainian - the Kiev 4. Pretty well made contax copies. But only buy one that has been fixed in beforehand, as the general advice here is. Mine is fine, but will strangely enough not wind correctly beyond 24 frames.
     
  17. spark

    spark Member

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    Good advice. My Kiev-4 looked georgeous, but made awful grinding noises when the film was wound and soon stopped working altogether. The repair cost almost as much as buying a CLA'd one from as US dealer.
     
  18. RPippin

    RPippin Subscriber

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    I've bought two Zorki 4K's and love both of them. If you have a good pro photo shop close by, they can do the service work, if not contact Pro Photo in Charlottesville Virginia. Otherwise FEDKA.COM is the place for good user cameras. I have been very happy with both the reliability and smoothness of mine and take them with me everywhere for those moments when I don't have a medium format or large format with me.
     
  19. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    They're hardly "poorly engineered"---it's the build quality that can be an issue, not the design. No argument, the quality control was dubious and there are a lot of Soviet-made cameras out there with problems---but the good ones are perfectly good.

    Personally, I quite like my Soviet rangefinders on their own merits, apart from notional comparisons to Leicae (or anything else). I don't view them as "make-believe" cameras; they have an amusing history as Leica copies, but you can't actually see that amusing history in the pictures that come out of them, I find.

    -NT
     
  20. C A Sugg

    C A Sugg Member

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    One real downside of the finish on some the eyepieces. This is something to consider if you shoot wearing glasses, particularly those with plastic lenses.
    Charles
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2009
  21. weasel

    weasel Member

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    I have done the whole russian rangefinder thing, and have come the conclusion that variation in sample is everything. I have a zorki 1 that honestly, is every bit as smooth and nice as an old screw mount leica111 I once owned.
    I have had some that were junk.
     
  22. srs5694

    srs5694 Member

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    This issue has come up a couple of times in this thread, and I think requires some elaboration for those who aren't in the know. First, as I stated in my previous post, FEDs and Zorkis are based on Leica designs; they are, in modern parlance, clones of Leicas. The Soviets did a lot of this, in many realms, not just cameras; it was a quick way of catching up technologically. (The Tu-4 bomber was a copy of the American B-29; and the Agat was an Apple II clone, for instance.)

    More recently, FEDs and Zorkis have been modified with fake Leica engravings and sold on eBay and elsewhere. Sometimes the cameras pick up extra engravings (Nazi-related stuff seems common), gold (or at least gold-colored) platings, etc. The honest sellers claim these are "fake Leicas," "Leica copies" or some such; the dishonest sellers claim they're genuine Leicas. Most knowledgeable Leica collectors and users can spot the fakes pretty easily, but somebody who doesn't know much about them could easily get taken in. Although it's easy to find these fake Leicas on eBay, my impression is that the majority of FED and Zorki listings on eBay are for honestly-labeled cameras, not fake Leicas.

    In any event, I don't believe the OP is asking about the fake Leica type of Russian camera.
     
  23. b1bmsgt

    b1bmsgt Member

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    I have had numerous FSU cameras, with mixed results, mechanically. As stated previously by a number of people, the build quality can vary quite a bit. That said, when you get a good one, the quality of the pictures is quite amazing, IMHO. I couldn't believe it when I developed my first roll taken with my Zorki 2c. Considering how cheap they are, I would say to go for it. That's half the fun of ebay anyway, isn't it?

    Russ
     
  24. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    Agreed. By "copies" I didn't mean "fakes" but "clones".

    -NT
     
  25. Tempt f8

    Tempt f8 Member

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    After almost 50 years of taking photos, I should know better, but I'm getting the 'itch' looking at some of those beautiful (& cheap) old Russian 'Leica II D' copies' on eBay, as well. I'm certainly hearing from some of you that Ukranian build consistency was a problem (no surprise), so you roll the dice for an operable camera when buying. I'm gonna tempt fate here by saying that after shooting digital professionally for the last 10 years and FINALLY getting back to film with a brilliant Mini Speed Graphic, I'm realizing that I probably won't shoot many pix with a 'fake' Leica anyway (good or bad)? I'm reminded of what Wally Dryer (my ODU photo prof.) said when classes started. I tried to hide a 5th hand, beat-up Miranda SLR wrapped in a piece of blanket in a pink briefcase (yeah, I was de-moralized) while my Navy pilot classmates argued about their Nikon vs. Hasselblad vs. Leica gear. Wally brought the class to order by saying "Ok, put away the jewelry... we're going to study photography". Wow, clean slate! I could do this, if I tried! I've never forgotten that quote when a kid comes up drooling over my ThinkTank bag full of toys. Sure, functional gear is important, but it's still all about the vision & talent of the person pushing that button. My point is... maybe it's time I bought a piece of decorative 'jewelry'... just 'cuz it's pretty? Let the arm-wrestling begin... :smile:
     
  26. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    You might want to look at the combination of an Industar 61D lens with a Voigtlander Bessa body. This will get you a camera with a builtin electronic meter. I have a Bessa R and two Bessa L's and like them very much. I picked up one of the L's brand new for $60.